Milestones:First Technical Meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1884


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First Technical Meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1884


As part of the landmark International Electrical Exhibition organized by the Franklin Institute and held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1884, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a predecessor of IEEE, held its first conference on 7-8 October 1884. This meeting was the first formal technical conference on electrical engineering held in the United States.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

, 222 North 20th St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., 39.958139, -75.172626

Details of the physical location of the plaque

The plaque will be mounted on the commemorative wall next to the main elevators on the Franklin Institute's first floor

How the plaque site is protected/secured

The Franklin Institute is open to the public. The building has security personnel and alarms when it is closed.

Historical significance of the work

As part of the landmark International Electrical Exhibition organized by the Franklin Institute and held in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1884, a technical conference was organized by the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, attended by several native and sixteen foreign scientists and electrical engineers. This technical meeting is historically significant for being the first formal technical conference on electrical engineering held in the United States. The format and topics discussed in this conference served as a precursor for AIEE's future technical meetings. Moreover this meeting went on to being an annual fixture in AIEE's calendar. More importantly it resembled later conferences in many important respects thus setting the format for them; members of the AlEE delivered papers on a variety of electrical engineering topics and followed by a discussion on the papers.

Vol 1 of the Transactions of the AIEE pg 9 relates:

"The Directors of the International Electrical Exhibition, Philadelphia, held under the auspices of the Franklin Institute, having kindly tendered to the Institute the free use of rooms in the exhibition building.... ....The rooms were accordingly opened to members by Mr. Keith on September 2d, and remained open until October 11th, during which time they were visited by a great many members of the Institute and by several foreign electricians. On October 7th and 8th a meeting was held, in accordance with the rules and a call, at the Continental Hotel, and at the Exhibition rooms, where the papers forming part of this volume were read and discussed. On the invitation of the Franklin Institute, the Exhibition was also inspected by the members in a body."

The exhibition was held in a temporary building built for it at 32nd Street and Lancaster Avenue.

The topics presented encompassed both theoretical and practical interests as witnessed by the first paper read by Edwin J. Houston titled "Notes on Phenomena in Incandescent Lamps," which was the first encounter by the audience with what we now know to be a unilateral circuit element. Other papers given at the meeting covered a synchronizing scheme, underground cables and ground return, and a paper on "The Scientific City Street" by R. R. Hazard, President of the Gramme Company. The table of contents showing the papers and their topics can be seen at Table of Contents of Transactions of the AIEE, Volume 1, Number 1

Known attendees at the first AIEE Technical Meeting October 7-8 1884.

This list consists of 2 parts. The first part consists of those people who presented papers. The second part consists of those additional people who asked questions during the discussions that followed each paper. For the most part the second group is identified only by last name. There were no doubt additional attendees who did not ask questions, and thus whose names we do not have. The source for the list is volume 1 of the Transactions of the AIEE (1884) which contains the papers and discussions. In most cases, the discussants are identified only by their last names.

Paper Presenters

1. Edwin J. Houston

2. W. M. Callender, Callender Company, New York

3. Rowland R. Hazard, New York

4. Prof. C. F. Brackett, Princeton

5. Thomas Lockwood, American Bell Telephone Co.

6. S. J. M. Bear, Chicago

7. Edward P. Thompson, New York

8. H.B. Slater, Elizabeth NJ

9. C. J. Kintner, U.S. Patent Office.

Discussants (most identified only by Mr. and last name)

1. James Kelly

2. Nathaniel Keith

3. William H. Preece, London England

4. Delany

5. Mailloux

6. Kintner

7. George Maynard

8. Partz

9. Bailey

10. Kelly

11. Charles Stagl, Bernstein Electric Co., Boston

12. Knowles

13. E. A. Sperry

14. Jannus

In 1884, the AIEE had 71 members.

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

Although the American Electrical Society was founded in 1875, it, and a number of smaller societies that followed, did not survive the decade. The New York Electrical Society was formed in 1881 and the Franklin Institute's Electrical Section was formed in 1882. The motives in meeting at the Franklin Institute in 1884 are explained in Reiman below. For context see the GHN Topic Article on the IEEE Medal of Honor.

Significant references

Israel, P. (1992). From Machine Shop To Industrial Laboratory: Telegraphy And The Changing Context Of American Invention, 1830-1920. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Supporting materials

A. Michal McMahon, The Making of a Profession: A Century of Electrical Engineering in America, 1984, IEEE Press, pp 1-4 (pdf) McMahon, A.M. (1976, Sept.).

Corporate Technology: The Social Origins of the AIEE. Proceedings of the IEEE. Vol. 64, No. 9.

McMahon, A.M. (1984). The Making Of A Profession: A Century Of Electrical Engineering In America. IEEE. New York: IEEE Press.

Reiman, D. New York: IEEE. (1984, Mar.). Formative Years of the AIEE. IEEE Power Engineering Review.

John D. Ryder and Donald G. Fink, Engineers and Electrons, 1984, IEEE Press, pp 33-35 (link) Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Vol 1, 1884


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